This series, Kröd Mändoon and the Flaming Sword of Fire was a game attempt to make a comedy fantasy show. We reviewed the series over two issues of Death Ray, and both reviews are included below I was inclined to be generous to it, but in the end it didn’t quite work.
TWO AND A HALF STARS
Writers: Peter Knight, Brad Johnson
Starring: Sean McGuire, India De Beaufort, Matt Lucas, Alex MacQueen
Comedy fantasy that just about succeeds on both scores.
Comic fantasy is a difficult to pull off . Few beyond Terry Pratchett manage to raise genuine laughs in print, and even his stuff doesn’t work well as TV comedy.
Being created specifically for telly, Kröd Mändoon is friendlier to the format. In some ways it’s reminiscent of Roman comedy Chelmsford 123 (one of Kröd production company Hat Trick’s very first efforts). Perhaps we’re being generous here, but it just could be fantasy’s answer to Red Dwarf.
Why? Well, the first episode of Red Dwarf, like Kröd Mändoon‘s, was hardly hilarious, but as the characters and situation became established, it became so. There’s plenty in fantasy to tease, and Kröd attacks the cliches with gusto, Michael Gambon’s voice overs doing a great job of popping the genre’s vasty pomposity.
Matt Lucas and Alex MacQueen’s double act as evil Chancellor Dongalor and his put-upon number two Barnabus is easily the highlight of the series thus far. Despots always have the most fun, but Dongalor’s employment of teeth-grinding modern management techniques punctuated with murderous violence demonstrates comic fantasy’s greatest strength: as a satirical tool it works extremely well. If the later episodes make more of this it could well succeed. As it is, the second episode is better than the first. And though the rest of the characters are not as strong as Dongalor, McGuire’s insecure freedom fighter Kröd shows some promise.
However, Red Dwarf at its best managed to be good science fiction and good comedy. We’re not so convinced Kröd‘s fantasy is robust enough to be more than simply silly. Secondly, although the market for literary fantasy is larger than that of SF, the genre’s habits and foibles are not as familiar to the broader public. Still, it’s brave, and raises more than the average number of laughs. We’ll keep watching.
Broad fantasy comedy that raises more than a few laughs, but doesn’t quite hit the mark.
Last issue we left Kröd after two episodes, hoping the series would come good on the promise it showed. We can report that it did. Mostly. Kröd’s full outing was not exactly a laugh riot, but it managed to remain entertaining throughout.
We’ll reiterate our reservations from last time: do sufficient people know fantasy well enough to get Kröd? And can it be more than simply silly? The first remains an unknown, only audience figures will give us any indication, but the second we’ll have to say ‘no’ to. The series’ jokes are almost entirely predicated on three things. First: Chancellor Dongalor’s murderous governance and family affairs. Secondly: the incompetence of Kröd’s crew. Thirdly: sex. There’s so much smut in Kröd it should really be called Crude Mändoon and the Big Fat Cock Joke.
But hey, Death Ray likes a good cock joke as much as the next Englishman.
It’s the heroes constant bickering that works less well. To be sure, each member of Kröd’s plucky band has some kind of issue, and these play off well against each other, but it’s a forced kind of comedy. It doesn’t play off against the heroes’ quest they’re on either. Yeah, sure, the band of idiots who succeed in spite of themselves is old as time, but it doesn’t quite hold up here. Better would be to follow the model of Asterix the Gaul, whose adventures manage to be hilarious without the hero being a total chump.
Unlike Red Dwarf, or the more recent No Heroics, both of which used standalone ideas for each story, Kröd Mändoon depends on the ongoing story of the rebellion against Chancellor Dongalor, and his attempt to reactivate an ancient magical weapon. Most episodes have a standalone element to them, episode 4, for example, has the team attempting to rob a Cyclops of his magic gem. But, you guessed it, it’s all nookie jokes. There’s just not enough scope in individual episodes to build truly comic situations. The arc-plot is to blame. It’s too close to the thing it’s parodying. It’s too… BIG. Sitcoms depend on the situation as much as the comedy, and that situation has to be confining. Whether it’s Red Dwarf‘s spaceship, No Heroic‘s pub, any number of living rooms and flatshares or, more broadly, Royston Vasey, the relationship between Mark and Jez in Peepshow or Blackadder II‘s Elizabethan era, they all restrict. Kröd has no base, and his exploits are less funny because of it. It’s notable that the Dongalor/ Barnabus scenes remain the most successful. This is in part due to Matt Lucas’ performance, but also because it adheres more strictly to the formula of all truly great TV comedies – they barely leave the castle.
It is a warmhearted romp, and there are good jokes and good lines, but if it comes back for a second run, it will need to be tighter and just a bit more imaginative.